Josh Hurst Calls for Closing the Doors on CCM

Josh Hurst at Reveal (www.revealarts.com) has just posted an editorial that should be read, discussed, and passed around. In it, he asks the blunt question (which I’m paraphrasing): Who needs the contemporary Christian music industry anymore, when there is music about spirituality from a Christian perspective being offered frequently in every mainstream and alternative genre?

He goes on to answer that question persuasively. Nevertheless, I can’t help but chime in with my own proposed answer to that question: Christian artists who know they don’t have what it takes in the “quality” department have figured out that if they release their music in the CCM industry, then, relative to the other music in that industry, they’ll actually come out sounding pretty good. Either that, or they still believe that somehow, by releasing their music in the Christian industry, they’re somehow insulating themselves against corruption, which is just another way of saying, they’d rather sing to the choir than get their hands dirty by singing to the culture.

Why would any talented Christian musician want to “hide their light under the bushel” of the CCM industry? Surely it’s certainly not because the recording industry and mainstream audiences aren’t open to giving them a shot. Heck, The Innocence Mission won album of the year on NPR for 2003. U2 sells like hotcakes. Switchfoot is huge. Over the Rhine has a devoted following. Emmylou Harris’s albums are more and more brazenly gospel-filled than ever, and Johnny Cash is still a superstar. Daniel Lanois is a modern psalmist. Bruce Cockburn … well, maybe he’s trying to distance himself from anything that sounds like the gospel, but what about that troubadour-hero Bill Mallonnee? Or Sam Phillips, who never really left music about the mysteries of Christ; she just tunnelled deeper into Christ than most Christian artists dare go…

Need I go on with the long, long list of examples that are evidence against the need for a CCM category?

With each passing year, the “Dove Awards culture” is more and more obviously an event in which Christians get together and congratulate themselves on mediocrity. It’s more and more obviously about an insulated community that is interested only in leading itself in worship rather than letting its light shine beyond the walls of the church.

Perhaps at one time, the CCM industry supported young talents who couldn’t get a shot at any kind of attention in the mainstream industry. But that time is past. Amy Grant crossed over bravely, and for that, I still have a sentimental spot for her. Leslie Phillips was even bolder, and she’s my hero. Sufjan Stevens is earning attention and rave reviews from Christians and “the secular world” alike for writing beautiful biblicalmeditations. David Bazan tells parables so dark Flannery O’Connor would get the chills. Bono has thrown down the gauntlet for all Christian artists and mainstream artists alike, reminding us that art is not an end in itself, but a path leading us to richer and more dedicated lives. Those Christian artists merely concerned about sales and fans and Dove Awards are lost in the lie of their own “sanctified” version of celebrity culture, while others go on to actually make a difference in the world.

I agree, Josh, and I commend you on your challenge to the industry. I know a lot of Christian musicians, and those that are taking their art seriously don’t even stop to think about the CCM industry; it’s not even an option.

I’m sure somebody out there will name an exception. Of course there are exceptions. But let’s not keep this huge and expensive industry going just so there’s a flicker of something worthwhile here and there. Let’s shut it down.

There’s a lot of salt staying in the salt shaker and sitting on the shelf, losing its saltiness. It’s time to either open the shaker and use it, or dump it.

Did we sing that chorus “Hide it under a bushel? NO!” as children just because it was fun? Or did it mean something?

Okay, I’m going to go regain my composure, and gather my strength for a similar rant on the topic of literature….

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  • Paul

    You mean the same Mark Heard that is reknowned as a great singer songwriter throughout the “secular” music world? How odd that you should choose him. And don’t forget about Pierce Pettis, Tonio K., or Charlie Sexton…

  • Matt

    Here, here!

  • Andrew Whitman

    I can’t believe I’m defending the CCM industry. But I am. Sort of.

    First, I agree with you, Jeffrey (and with Josh Hurst) that CCM is frequently insular and superfluous, and is almost always a bastion of mediocrity. I actually pay very little attention to CCM these days, while the Christian musicians who operate in the “normal” (I hesitate to say “secular” because I hate the distinction that implies) music industry occupy far more of my time and attention.

    However … I do think CCM has a legitimate place in the musical universe. That place has to do with praise and worship and persuasion through the communication of propositional truth.

    There is, of course, an entire sub-genre of music dedicated to praise and worship. Much of it is inane; Hallmark Card verses set to ridiculously repetitive choruses. Some of it is actually pretty good. But outside of CCM there is simply no place for this music. Who else is going to release it?

    Persuasion through the communication of propositional truth is more problematic. Propositional truth rarely makes for good art or good music. You can learn from a good sermon, but rarely can you dance to one. But much of CCM is focused on communicating objective truth: Jesus is Lord, He died to save sinners, etc. Is that the kind of approach that makes for good art? Maybe, maybe not, but if you’re going to dismiss CCM for this approach then you should be consistent and dismiss a lot of “non-Christian” music for the same reasons. A lot of contemporary musicians come to the table with agendas, and with a desire to persuade listeners to the truth/accuracy/value of those agendas. You don’t have to be a Christian to preach. But CCM, for better or worse, is primarily focused on that kind of communication. I think there’s a place for it.

    Finally, CCM has actually produced its share of worthwhile music. And it involves far more than one or two examples. For every derivative (okay, for every *ten* derivative) CCM acts, there is a Daniel Amos, a Mark Heard, a Larry Norman — artists who actually have something to say and the musical creativity to say it well.

    Okay, I’m off the soapbox. I just think these issues are not as black and white as they have been presented.

  • Anonymous

    YAYYYYYYYYYYYYY!

    and that’s pretty much all i have to say about that.

    -kate b.


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